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Books Read #8-10 ⎮ March 2017

Last summer I read the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv and it gave me pause regarding how children in our country are spending less and less time outside (including a reduction in recess at school), and how that lack of time spent in nature is having a detrimental affect on learning and other aspects of life.

My brain has been mulling over what would be the best schooling option as our oldest fast approaches his first year of formal education. To be honest, I was pretty sure we were going to do public school. I had a good public school experience and the schools where we live are excellent. But then I sat down and read The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch.

The more I read, the more I started to have doubts. Not about our excellent local schools, but about schooling in America in general. Diane Ravitch, who has has been writing education policy starting under the first President George Bush, clearly outlines what has been happening in our country since the 1980s and it is discouraging. Especially when it comes to younger grades. A 7-hour school day seems like overkill for kindergarten, and the lack of time to play outside concerns me a lot – especially when compared to high-performing countries like Finland where testing is not a priority, and play is an integral part of a child's day.

In addition to this book, I have read countless articles, like This Really Isn't Kindergarten Anymore in the Washington Post, that echo many of my concerns and make me think there has to be a better way for schooling than what currently exists in our country.

At this life stage, I am a stay-at-home mom with the ability to educate my kids at home, and the more I read, the more I think that is what will fit us best, at least for now.

Passages that stuck out the most to me from The Death and Life of the Great American School System:
Tests are necessary and helpful. But tests must be supplemented by human judgment. When we define what matters in education only by what we can measure, we are in serious trouble. When that happens, we tend to forget that schools are responsible for shaping character, developing sound minds and healthy bodies, and forming citizens for our democracy, not just for teaching basic skills.

American education has a long history of infatuation with fads and ill-considered ideas. The current obsession with making our schools work like a business may be the worst of them, for it threatens to destroy public education.

Our schools will not improve if we continue to focus only on reading and mathematics while ignoring the other studies that are essential elements of a good education... without a comprehensive liberal arts education, our students will not be prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy, nor will they be equipped to make decisions based on knowledge, thoughtful debate and reason. 

... at the same time that scores go up, the youngsters may be ignorant of current events, the structure of our government and other governments, the principles of economics, the fundamentals of science, the key works of literature of our culture and others, the practice and appreciation of the arts, or the major events and ideas that have influenced our nation and the world. Even as their scores go up, they may be devoid of any desire to deepen their understanding of knowledge and may have no interest in reading anything for their own enlightenment and pleasure. And so we may find that we have obtained a paradoxical and terrible outcome: higher test scores and worse education.

Reformers often say that the teacher is the single most important factor in raising a student's test scores. This is not quite right. Researchers have consistently concluded that the teacher is the single most important factor that affects student learning inside the school, but non-school factors matter a great deal more... teachers can have a profound influence on their students, but on average, what families do or don't do influences academic outcomes even more.
The last quote resonates with me the most, I have always held fast to the belief that no matter what education is available to my kids, at the end of the day, Daniel and I will have the biggest influence on our children's education. We will be the ones to fill in the gaps and guide them to learn the things we believe to be important, in addition to what they learn from others. If you are wanting a good overview of the state of our schools, this book is a long but worthy read.


Another book I read last month was The Whole 30: The Official 30-day Guide To Total Health And Food Freedom by Melissa Hartwig. I feel like a have a good handle on exercise but my nutrition could be better. I like the idea of Whole 30, but finding the time to commit is daunting. Also, I have come to realize that my end goal in health is not to be skinny, but to be healthy and also to be able to enjoy good food. "Diet" type of meal plans always make me feel like I have to give up eating delicious food. I enjoyed reading the "whys" behind this meal plan, but am not ready to commit to 30 days of anything.


I recently started reading Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King (The Guardians #1) by William Joyce to Jack. It is written for older kids (probably 8-10 is ideal), but we are enjoying it. I have been surprised that Jack (age 5) will sit still for a chapter at a time. Sometimes he plays Legos, but he is listening. I have to explain parts of it and he doesn't get all of the nuances, but I am really enjoying it. I think we will re-read the series when he is older, or he can even read it to himself later.


Honorable Mention:

Jack and I are continuing with the Flat Stanley series by Jeff Brown. This month we read The Japanese Ninja Surprise (Flat Stanley's Worldwide Adventures #3) by Sara Pennypacker, Jeff Brown (Series Creator), and Macky Pamintuan. Jack loved this book since it is about Ninjas, and we are in the process of rereading it at bedtime.


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